Middle School Hero

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 29 2013

What I see when I walk into other classes

Today, during my plan, I ducked into the computer lab to make some copies for the day.

Normally the lab is empty, but because of construction there’s a class in there for the time being, so students were in class while I was making copies and I got a rare view into another classroom here at school.

The students were typing up a paper entitled “My Actual Fall Break”. About half of the students were still working on their essays while the other half were clicking furiously on one of the many flashgames available on Coolmath.com, where the only math that happens is when students get to look at their newest high scores.

The ‘essays’ had to be a paragraph long and the students had two days to finish it. When students finished, the teacher came by and ran the spellchecker, formatted the paper, and saved the work for the students, who were then free to play around on the computer for the remainder of class. Each class period is 50 minutes long, so over the course of two days, the students were asked to write a single paragraph. They didn’t have to exhibit any other mastery of computer technology or Word and spent most of their time playing games.

It broke my heart- these same kids that work so hard in some classes are being turned loose during other classes.

In my class, we strive to spend 50 minutes working our butts off every single day. That’s not to say that we always do because sometimes I get tired, lazy, and burned out too. Sometimes I sneak to my laptop to check twitter while the kids are reading, just because I need a 30-second break from being Mr. Goodier. But by and large, we try hard in my class and I strive to create lessons that drive students towards a goal that has a tangible effect on their lives.

So, this isn’t an ability thing. Some people are better teachers than others and after my experience last year, I’ll never begrudge someone for working hard. But so often in school I see these mindsets from teachers that sets students up for failure.

These mindsets include:

“It’s up to the students to do the work. If they don’t come ready to learn, why should I come ready to teach?”

“The kids worked hard today. They deserve a break.”

“I’m tired. I’ll just find something in the book for them.”

These ideas hurt our kids so much. I’ve seen TFA teachers adopt toxic views towards children, just as I’ve seen “traditional” teachers push kids harder than they thought possible. So this isn’t a TFA problem or an every-other-teacher problem and it certainly isn’t a TFA vs every-other-teacher problem, which is how these narratives are so often shaped.

But it is a problem that we do have in our schools.


As many know, I teach Remedial Language Arts. All of my students are well behind their peers and have me as an elective class in addition to their regular language arts class. On top of that, many of my students have a language acquisition class because they speak English as a second language. This means that some of my students are receiving a tremendous opportunity to catch up to their peers based off of increased instructional time alone.

However, when I covered for one of the language acquisition classes last year, this was the lesson plan I found for the students:

“Students will work on their cursive by writing a paragraph.”

That was it. No other instruction. Students who are reading well below grade level, have limited critical thinking skills, and struggle mightily with writing are instead being told to write in cursive.

I walk by that same class all the time and see the same story: students sitting on desks, talking. Students throwing things. Students clustered in small groups, playing cards. And the teacher sits at the front of the room reading.

That’s not fair.

I understand that current teacher metrics are proving to be wildly inconsistent. I know that we shouldn’t be running off effective teachers. I respect the huge gains that unions and individualsĀ have made for teacher working conditions. But it is in no way just or right that some ineffective teachers, those who don’t even try, continue to draw a check while their students flounder in front of them.

As usual, this is a complicated and difficult issue. I don’t mean to offend anyone and I truly don’t know what the answers are. I know these problems are bigger than me or my school and they might be bigger than our entire educational system. I can’t solve them, but I do feel a duty to point them out.

4 Responses

  1. daltongoodier

    Janey & D-

    Definitely not putting myself on a pedestal or saying that I have some sort of superhuman work ethic. While I do work harder than some teachers, there are other teachers (TFA and otherwise) who work harder than me and give way more to our kids.

    D- I would never denigrate someone who is trying hard and failing. Last year I was an admittedly ineffective teacher despite everything I tried. A huge part of that came from the tremendous learning curve associated with teaching anywhere and particularly in a Title I school. Having been through that myself, I absolutely understand where you’re coming from. It’s those that don’t even try, that read or sit at their computer while their students sit around and talk that’s frustrating.

    Eric- If I came across as something of a “time Nazi” then that wasn’t my intention.
    Last year, I was. I certainly was your perception of the clueless TFA teacher and because I was so desperate to wring every possible second of instruction out of the day, I lost many chances to build meaningful relationships with my kids.

    This year, however, I’ve scaled back on that and as a result, my kids and I both enjoy class more, enjoy each other’s company, and are vastly more productive.

    Every day at the beginning of class, we take roughly five minutes to do an activity called “Good Things”, where students are able to share what’s going on in their lives. I take the time to crack a joke now and we do take time to have celebrations, both as a class and as a school.

    But that’s not the point of my post. What frustrates me isn’t a fun break now and then, its teachers who don’t even try. Teachers who let students leave their core class to go to PE or an extra lunch, teachers who show a movie a week, teachers who are gone every Friday- that’s what breaks my heart.
    Eric, I hope you and your kids enjoyed your Halloween party. I for one can’t wait for ours coming up right after lunch.

  2. Eric

    Seriously? You think that kids should work all day every day? You think that there is no room for taking it easy with them from time to time?

    Yet another example of why TFA members have no clue.

    Seeing this every day is for sure a problem. Seeing it once in a while is part of caring about students. For example, today in my homeroom class we won’t be doing advisory, we’re having a Halloween party.

  3. Janey

    Teachers are as good as the support they receive and the expectations that their school leadership has for them. It sounds to me like you have an administrative/ management issue. Where is the instructional leadership? Where is the teacher training? Where are the expectations? Where is supervision and oversight? Rather than judging these other teachers and comparing them to yourself and your own work ethic, perhaps you should examine what supports are in place at your school to help foster excellence in teaching.
    Don’t say you have a great administration because if what you describe above is being allowed to happen- you do not have a great administration and teachers are not being effectively supported, trained, or supervised.

  4. D

    Just be careful to distinguish between those who are trying and failing and those who aren’t trying at all.

    I’ve tried and failed enough times to have permanent sympathy for those who do the same.

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